O’FALLON, IL (KTVI)– A senseless crime interrupted a joyous holiday homecoming in O`Fallon, IL.
A wounded Marine returning to his neighborhood for the first time since losing his legs in Afghanistan woke up with his family Christmas Eve morning, to find racist graffiti, aimed at African Americans, painted on the side of the house.
The victims are white.
Police were investigating as a criminal damage to property case and considered it a priority.
Lance Corporal Chris Van Etten, 22, was walking around his parents` home on his prosthetic legs Wednesday night.
“Having all the support, having so many people behind really does help me keep going, even when Idon`t want to sometimes,” he said.
He was in shorts.
Had he been wearing slacks, you wouldn`t know he`d lost his legs.
His mother said he walked so well, it sometimes slipped her mind that he no longer had his ‘real’ legs. had happened.
“I`m very fortunate. I remember the few moments I thought he was actually dead. And to have him be alive to only have it be his legs after everything I have seen the last 6 months. We`re blessed,” said Van Etten`s mother, Janet Leigh.
He lost his legs in an IED explosion while on night patrol in Sangin, Afghanistan, June 13.
He was walking on prosthetics August 13.
“Two months to the day,” Van Etten said. “It just seems like it`d be kind of pitiful of me to kind of try and sit here and pretend like my life sucks when there`s people out there that are missing more limbs; there`s people out there who don`t have a husband or a son or a brother.”
He said he was living his life and staying upbeat as a tribute to his best friend, Lance Corporal T.J. Baune of Minnesota, who was killed in the same explosion that took Van Etten`s legs.
Leigh wears Baune`s photo around her neck.
So an incident like their house being egged and sprayed with racist graffiti was not life shattering.
But still it was disturbing.
“It`s now how I want him to spend his time here,” Leigh said.
She and her family were anything but racist.
“There`s not a hateful bone in my body. So to have what was spray-painted, it hurts. And it hurts that it was now. It`s such a joyous occasion. Not that it`s changed it any, but it still kind of put a little bit of a damper on it to wake up one morning have that there so randomly and so hurtfully,” she said.
Police said the crime made no sense.
“No, it doesn`t,” said Sgt. Craig Koch, of the O`Fallon, IL, Police Department. “What was written on the house if they were trying to harass by the use of the words it doesn`t match up with the people who were living there…(especially on Christmas Eve) it`s pretty sad.”
“What really made it better was neighbors coming out, people we didn`t even know, coming and helping, taking supplies from their house and coming to help wash it off,” Van Etten said. “Christmas spirit for sure.”
His mother said people started showing up to help about ½ hour after the vandalism was discovered.
Police say they have no suspects. If you have any information, call 618-624-4545.
There`s a welcome home party for Van Etten at O`Fallon, IL, VFW, Saturday night, January 5, 5:30.
The public is invited.
His family`s hoping for a big turnout and an arrest in this case by then.
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